Saddam Hussein, the Fighter, the Thinker and the Man
The Revolution’s sinking sail
There have been many revolutions which have followed a violent course and which have involved the spilling of blood. But the violence has been directed against the revolution’s enemies and the bloodshed has been, in a sense, necessary in order that the revolution should take root, grow and bear fruit.
But what happened in Iraq, during that tragic and melancholy period of its history, was more like some dreadful nightmare. It is impossible to imagine how men’ s mental processes can become so distorted and ossified and fall so completely under the sway of their own ready-made phrases that thy are driven in their thousands into new forms of savagery and collective carnage.
The strange thing is that all this took place in the name of the finest and noblest concept to which man can aspire: socialism. All humanity, and most of all progressive humanity, will never forgive Stalin the crimes he committed in the name of democracy and freedom against those among the masses of his people whom he described as the enemies of socialist development, notwithstanding all his achievements within his country and in the Second World War. The report delivered by Khrushchev at the secret session of the twentieth congress of the Soviet Communist Party, in which he revealed for the first time the scale and magnitude of those crimes, fell like a thunderbolt on all those whose minds and hearts had been drawn to the socialist paradise over which Joseph Stalin had presided on behalf of the International. The breakdowns and schisms which ensued in many Communist parties all over the world were a tragic and vehement expression, both on the collective and “individual levels, of a keen awareness among socialists everywhere and of their sudden discovery that they had been worshiping a body without a soul and that man lives not by bread alone, but also by freedom and democracy.
Nevertheless all this had taken place within the framework of an historic experiment, which had challenged the servitude of man for the first time. And although this does not justify its denial of what was supposed to be its essence, it can at least be advanced as an explanation-and how many explanations have been advanced-of the abuse which has been leveled at that historic experiment. But what was it which drove the liberating Iraqi revolution, within a few months of its having been successfully accomplished, months of solidarity between the nationalist elements and cohesion between the parties, into morass? Why did it rush, or allow itself to be pushed, so quickly into that bloody quagmire? And how did all its noble aims and ideals of freedom, unity and socialism-all facets of the same jewel, lose themselves amid those endlessly rancorous and bitter struggles between armies defending the same positions and dreaming the same dreams?
It would take an accomplished writer of horror stories or a great historical tragedian to describe what happened in Mosul in March 1959 and again in Kerkuk in July 1959.
It was not feudalism, reaction or monopoly capitalism, nor even the colonialist oil companies, which were the victims of these blood baths. On the contrary it was the patriots and the nationalists who fell victim to the demented mobs and whose desecrated corpses lay about the streets, while the feudal landlords clung to their estates, and capital, monopoly and the colonialist oil companies continued to flourish unmolested.
The Communist Party tried to organize in Mosul a grand review of its forces under the title “Grand Festival of Peace”, on the sixth of March 1959 and thousands of people flocked thither in a special free train which left the capital bearing a placard on which was written “Peace train to Mosul”. It went on publishing in its newspapers inflammatory slogans like “Come to Mosul to take part in the Grand Festival of Peace”, “To the heroic city, city of revolutionary glory”, “Peace train leaves Baghdad this evening”(17). Of course, world peace was not at risk, nor was world war imminent.
The Festival was a manifestation of a bitter and unjustifiable struggle against other patriotic and nationalist forces. Naturally (for that indeed was its purpose), there were clashes between the communists and the nationalist forces in the city. The army officers subsequently met and instructed the officer commanding the fifteenth brigade, Staff-Colonel ‘ Abdul-Wahhab ash-Shawwaf, to go to Baghdad, see’ Abdul-Kareem Qasim and give him a picture of the situation in Mosul, so that he might take prompt action to quell the disturbance before it got out of hand. But Qassam’s mind was on other things. He was happy to see the patriotic forces exhausting themselves in a struggle against one another, in order that he might, as he imagined, strengthen his hold on the reins of government. He did nothing. Nor did he offer any solution to the tense situation, other than a few unhelpful platitudes. And, so the tension worsened.
Once more ash-Shawwaf went to Baghdad to see Qasim. But as before he returned without any decision which might have restored the situation, although he had, in his suitcase, a picture of the “Sole Leader” on which the great .man had written: “To my noble brother, Abdul-Wahhab ash-Shawwaf.” Meanwhile Mosul was in turmoil and tremors had begun to be felt in Baghdad itself. Ministers were resigning; senior officers were asking to be placed on the retired list. The “Popular Resistance” was beginning to sharpen its swords on the people’s necks. Colonel Fadhil ‘ Abbas al-Mahdawi, President of the Peoples Court, was turning his court-room into a theatre in which the drama of the struggle against the nationalists in Iraq and against the United Arab Republic was staged each night.
Ash-Shawwaf went to Baghdad for the third time. Again he met Qasim, who, brushing aside the urgent matters which ash-Shawwaf had come to see him about, whispered that he would tell him a secret, which he had never yet divulged to anyone. He then thrust into ash-Shawwaf’s pocket a medal on which was inscribed the words “We will return.” “Return?” asked ash-Shawwaf, “Return where?” “To Palestine, of course.” “When will that be, Leader?” asked ash-Shawwaf. “I shall announce it at the proper time”(18), was the enigmatic reply.
This playful little scene was, in itself, an indication that the ship of state was without a captain and that Iraq was heading for, or was being propelled by unseen forces towards, an unknown destination.
In the streets of Mosul, the nation’s forces were divided against themselves. One section had allowed itself, either by some spiritual affinity with the “Leader” or with his wickedness, to be persuaded that he was capable of crushing the others and of “eliminating” all those who stood in his way.
What happened subsequently was the natural result of its tragic prologue. The grand festival was held in that tense and critical climate. The Sole Leader’s office sent a telegram to ash-Shawwaf telling him to keep the army units in their barracks on the two days, 5th and 6th of March, while the “Festival” was being held. On the 7th of March a further telegram was sent asking the officer commanding the military region to continue to keep the army units in barracks.
After the Festival was over and the participants had dispersed, the nationalist forces attempted, in their turn, to organize some manifestation of their real presence in the city. The communists objected and asked that the military forces, which had had orders to remain in barracks during the Festival, should be called out to disperse the nationalist gathering. But the nationalist demonstration went ahead in the city, its numbers increasing. Then shots rained down on it and fires were started at bookshops, cafes and other premises owned by elements sympathetic to the nationalist movement. A counter-demonstration, led by the communists, tried to encircle the first demonstration. In a quarter of the city called Bab al Baidh, which was completely under nationalist control, the communist demonstrators began to get out of hand. Some of them started attacking houses, dragging out the occupants and subjecting them to all kinds of violence. The army had no alternative but to begin to do its duty. It came out on to the streets and imposed a curfew, but only after much burning, looting and bloodshed.
In a country without an effective government, the officers who had joined with ash-Shawwaf after the curfew decided upon an armed uprising, in the belief that they alone were capable of keeping the country on a proper course. On the 8th of March, ash-Shawwaf, at the head of his armed division, declared his first, and last, uprising.
This action had not been precisely planned, nor had it any organization to ensure that it would be supported by the military forces in other parts of the country. As ill luck would have it, the circumstances were not propitious. Qasim sent his air force to nip the rising in the bud and ash-Shawwaf was wounded in an air raid. He tried to reach the hospital to have his wound dressed, but on the way he was shot at and killed, and his body was hung up for all to see, a melancholy witness to the tragic culmination of the bloody struggle between communists and nationalists.
The prompt suppression of ash-Shawwaf’s rising was the signal for an indiscriminate campaign of terror to be unleashed against those suspected of having supported it. Doors were broken down, houses were wrecked, old men, women and children were strangled, bodies, among them the naked bodies of young girls, were hung from electricity pylons. Meanwhile, demonstrating mobs poured on to the streets of Baghdad, not satisfied with what had happened at Mosul, and chanting “Kill them, kill them”. The newspaper “Ittihad ash-Sha’ab”, the Iraqi Communist Party’s mouthpiece, came out with the following item on its front page:
“After the corpse of, Abdul-Wahhab ash-Shawwaf had been dragged through the streets of Mosul, on Tuesday night it was the turn of the others, when the indignant masses dragged their dead bodies through the streets as an example).” A short while after came a call from the trade union organizations affiliated to the Communist Party, saying: “We will turn the whole of Iraq upside down, so that every town and village, every inch of Iraqi soil, will teach anyone who dares to thwart our Republic a harder lesson than they learned at Mosul (20).”
Then, two days later, “Ittihad ash-Sha’ab”, assessing the “revolutionary” experiment conducted by the communists at Mosul, published a salute to the “fighter al-Barazani”, the feudal Kurdish Leader, in which it said: “The presence of the fighter, al-Barazani, in Kurdistan during the mutiny by al-Shawwaf’s traitorous band had a great influence on the readiness of the Kurds to help in crushing the mutiny and in nipping ash-Shawwaf’s conspiracy in the bud (21).”
After the festival of terror and murder in the streets and alleys, another festival began in al-Mahdawi’s “court”, where the proceedings, for all their intensely tragic character, at times degenerated into something bordering on farce. For in no criminal court in the world, not even in the trials of the second world war criminals at Nuremberg, have the crowds stood yelling as though crazed with fury: “Kill them! Kill them!” while a group of nationalist officers who, whatever their offence in the eyes of the regime, were nevertheless out and out patriots, stood in the defendants’ cage waiting while the president of the court heaped abuse on Arab nationalism and unity and on the United Arab Republic and Gamal ‘ Abdul-Nasser until, amid the cheers and acclamation, he pronounced sentence of death upon them.
In Umm at- Tubul Place, in the capital Baghdad, a gallows was erected to rip off the heads of the finest and noblest of those who had borne arms in the Iraqi army in defence of the honour of their country and the dignity of their fellow-countrymen.
What occurred after that in Basra was more than matched by what happened in Kerkuk. Both were tragedies after the Mosul pattern. Even Abdul-Kareem Qasim himself, at a meeting with a delegation from professional organizations and trade unions affiliated to the Communist Party, told its members, in disgust: “I will now hand round a few pictures to show you the chaos which has been created among our Turcoman brothers and fellow-citizens. Look and see whether any of you would permit himself to take the law unto himself and to attack his fellow countrymen and commit these atrocities against them. Those who stand for freedom and those who stand for democracy do not perpetrate these acts of savagery. The events of Kerkuk are a disgrace to Iraq. Did Hulagu, even, do anything like this? Is this the twentieth century? (22)”
Nevertheless, the “Ittihad ash-Sha’ab” could still write: “The show-down in Kerkuk is another splendid example of the only effective method of crushing the enemies of the republic (23).” And again: “The republican forces demonstrated their overwhelming strength and struck a decisive blow in Kerkuk, by the same shrewd method that was used to crush ash-Shawwaf’s conspiracy (24).”
Karl Marx, who said: “Man is the most valuable form of capital (25)”, must have turned in his grave during those unhappy days, when so many crimes were being committed in his name. He no doubt repeated once more the famous phrase by which he used to disclaim association with those who sought to lay their crimes at his door. “If these are Marxists, then all I can say is that I am not a Marxist (26).”